The Chicago south suburbs will have, by 2015, a 100-mile loop of off-street multi-use trails. And no one knew it, until this morning.
I had a great walkabout Springfield with retired IDNR Trails & Greenways guy Dick Westfall, who is a brilliant trails thinker and takes a good photo to boot. Then lunch with Dick, IDNR landscape architect & trails planner George Bellovics, and Illinois Route 66’s Bill Kelly.
Reviewing the printer’s proof for Making Trails Count in Illinois. Average spending $30+ per trail visit…. Did I just tumblr that out loud?
From a study on European cycle touring, quoted by Ginny Sullivan in her Adventure Cycling blog post today.
We think the trail building, trail promoting work we do at Trails for Illinois could have a big impact on tourism in Illinois, with the largest impact, relatively speaking, on rural Illinois communities.
The fact is that travel in and through Illinois happens predominantly by car, on the interstate. Interstates in ANY state offer an always watered-down, and sometimes downright stupefying and/or ugly, view of the landscape, heritage and history of a state. Our motel rooms are built at interchanges, so travelers stay inside that denuded corridor.
While riding Illinois’ excellent Amtrak service—my preferred (and cheapest!) way to travel cross state for work—I first noticed that Illinois is much prettier than the view from the interstate. We live in a state of postcard Main Streets which I think become more and more precious as the world urbanizes. They are scenes that folks the world over already travel to see, thanks to the excellent work of Illinois Scenic Byways including its promotion of the Illinois River Road and Route 66—two notable efforts to pull people off the interstate, and into the real Illinois.
Expanding/connecting the state’s major trails and efforts like Adventure Cycling’s US Bikeways System will create additional marketable corridors that trace the contours of Illinois’ cultural and natural histories. In the giant pool of Illinois tourism revenue that Chicago dominates, gains from developing trail-based tourism will maybe, barely nudge the needle. But the impact on the local economy of trail-connected communities like Vienna, or Wyoming, or Bureau Junction, could be huge.
We’re delighted to be in a state with so much promise.
Bill Lang, who for decades has been a member of the Joliet Bicycle Club, is one of the Making Trails Count survey volunteers that you might have talked with if you ride the Chicago Southland’s Old Plank Road Trail. Before early September, the last time I had seen Bill was in the late ’90s, when our bikes crossed paths at a Folks on Spokes ride.
Since 2008 when a tumor on his spine ended his ability to ride an upright bicycle, Bill has been surviving cancer. He was able to ride a recumbent for a few years until more aggressive treatment impacted his sense of balance. While still mobile, he uses a walker now to steady himself.
Bill’s always been a high mileage guy - before the tumor, 5000 miles was a typical cycling season. While the pace is slower, he’s still keeping a rigorous schedule of outdoor physical activity, clocking in the miles - and tracking them with his wireless cycling computer which he mounted near the hand grips of his walker. The tiny sensor that typically would be mounted to a fork blade or seat stay instead counts the rotations of the magnet glued to the walker’s 4” wheel, calibrated appropriately.
As of early September, Bill had walked 161.6 miles since June 1, average just above 1 mph.
Bill dispatches most of those miles along the Old Plank Road Trail and the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Hickory Creek Trail. “I told my doctors over and over, ‘Quality of life - that’s what I’m after’,” says Bill. He insists that the daily trail walks are a key component to his survival, and to his emotional well-being.
I had stopped at Bill’s house in Mokena on a wet Saturday to drop off the Making Trails Count survey kit, and planned to scoot home after getting rained out on my own survey shift. He asked me how things were going with Trails for Illinois, and I told him how much work, and how much fun, GITy Up! (our overnight bike camping ride) had turned out to be.
Bill replied, “Yes, they’re always a lot of work. I’ve led dozens of overnight bike trips for different groups, all over the Midwest. I believe that we live in one of the best areas for bike touring in the world.” He leaned against the wall a little, and over the next hour began spinning tale after tale of overnight, bike touring adventure through a state that most Illinoisans sadly wouldn’t recognize, or maybe even dare imagine. River towns, 1000’ climbs, dramatic bluffs and stately forests, memorable landscapes accessible by bike in any direction from Chicago.
Bill’s rule for his overnight bike trips was that they begin at his front door - Bill’s home has always been his trailhead. Often times, the first leg of the ride was a local trail toward an Amtrak station, in Joliet, or maybe Kankakee or Plano. Amtrak’s Illinois service allows roll-on bicycle access for a small fee, and Bill used it to jumpstart many of his tours.
Mostly they didn’t camp, choosing instead local motels and B&Bs. Bill described ferry rides across the Mississippi, climbing ornery knobs in Central Illinois at 3 mph in his granny ring, of festivals and wine tastings.
I’ve felt from the beginning of this job that Illinois has, right now, a network of multi-use trails and quiet roads equal to much of what Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin boast. Promoting the state’s trail experiences is in our mission - GITy Up! is one way we’re fulfilling it.
I stood entranced, listening to Bill and feeling more and more confident that Illinois is ready for us to help raise it up as a trail-based touring destination, and that with efforts like GITy Up! and even Making Trails Count, we’re doing the right things. If more Illinoisans can experience what Bill has, their quality of life will rise, our rural economies will improve, and interest in connecting our trail networks will grow.
Bill said he has traveled the region for years giving presentations on his bike tours to different groups. I asked him if he’d share some of his writings and photos, and he has. If you follow the “Read more” link below, I’ve posted my favorite, a trip that used train, ferry, trail, and farm roads to cross Illinois and visit three of our neighboring states. I defy you to read it and NOT begin scheming how to sell a similar trip to your spouse.
When he took this trip in 2006, cancer hadn’t struck yet, but Bill was recovering from heart surgery. I leave you with the final journal entry from that trip:
I feel like I have just woken up from a long sleep. Again, I feel good. So I am on the bike again going places, and planning for trips again. [Bill’s wife] Char is much happier with me now that I am feeling better. I love doing these self-contained rides to different places in the mid-west. I feel that we live in the best cycling area of the country, and perhaps the world. We have so many choices of roads and places to ride, many options like riding Amtrak, ferryboat rides, quiet smooth very low volume traffic roads through beautiful farmland and quaint, friendly towns. Life is great!
Follow the “Read More” link below to read the full entry about the trip.
What a lovely book to find in my library.
GITy Up!, our our overnight bike camping adventure, has infected me with the bug for bike camping. This despite that I was the planner/organizer/director/truck driver/clean up guy—I had the least fun of all!
But I am, I’m hooked. Last week, I scored a deal at GITy Up! partner REI’s outlet store on a backpacking tent and sleeping bag. Yesterday, I ordered a tiny little Trangia stove. I have my sights set on Vienna, IL and camping along Tunnel Hill State Trail this October. You can’t read about or see the tunnel, the depot, the beautiful and rolling Southern Illinois landscape and not want to explore. And the canyon snakes!
GITy Up! proved to be a powerful vector for the bike camping contagion. Our GITy Up! rider survey reveals that 76% of survey respondents (31 of 57 responded) had never been bike camping before. Of these first timers, 60% are now preparing to go bike camping on their own.
Nearly ALL of them are purchasing new bike camping gear for their next trip—tents, sleeping bags, trailers, panniers, etc. On average, each of them estimates they’ll spend $177 on the new gear.
This is on top of the $1600 our 87 adult riders spent during GITy Up! at Batavia Fest, local restaurants and bars, liquor stores, bike shops, and the Batavia Quarry.
Trail-based tourism is a viable economic engine for Illinois communities and our state. We are so proud of GITy Up!’s ability to introduce bike camping to so many people, and to contribute to local economies.
And I can not wait to hit the trail.
Don’t dilly nor dally. Your kids or spouse find out you didn’t get registration done, and it is on, I promise you.
And please share this link—you can copy it and pass it on to your friends. We put all the money raised toward raising trail development and connections as a priority in Illinois. Can we sell it out? Please make it your goal as well!
When we stopped by on the GITy Up! 2012 Recon Ride this past Friday, Matt Knowles, the handsome guy on the left there in front of his trail-side Batavia shop, told us that Fox River Trail users are spending $350 a day with him buying accessories, energy bars and drinks. “Like gloves and tubes and things they forgot or realize they need,” he said.
That’s a nice bump in walk-in traffic. What we love though is that Matt’s counting.
It is far, far too rare that our trail towns and trail-serving businesses measure the impact that the trail is having. Not only are they likely not capturing all the return the trail can generate. But they are missing a compelling reason to improve, connect and extend it.
Our Making Trails Count project aims to put this mistake behind Illinois, and make counting like Matt’s doing the norm. Read our proposal. Think about what that’s worth to you. Then make a pledge today!
Bike & Dine, Lockport!, a set on Flickr.
National Trails Day was well met by Bike & Dine, Lockport! today. Pitch perfect weather, a historic community, a national trail corridor and three amazing restaurants conspired to showcase the possibilities in Illinois trail towns for trail-based tourism and economic development.
Half of the funds raised will purchase way finding signs along Lockport’s I&M Trail that will help trail users explore the historical sites and lovely shops of Lockport’s downtown. The other half will support Trails for Illinois’ work with Illinois communities to leverage their trail connections for economic development and a higher quality of life.
Our biggest, loudest thanks to Tallgrass, Mangia, and Public Landing for AMAZING cuisine and service. And to Mainstreet Lockport and Lynn & Tom Sperling, who coordinated the restaurants and our route.
Enjoy the photos!
The Righteous Path
Six 3-6 minute videos from Trails for Illinois’ presentation at the Central Illinois Bike Summit. To positively impact local economies, our environment, our quality of life, the trails we design, build and maintain must transcend the recreational use category. We must build Righteous Paths.
Trails for Illinois is working hard to teach Illinois the promise of trails’ Triple Bottom Line. It’s a big state, and we could use your help! Please make a donation now to fuel our campaign.
I had the great honor of speaking at the Central Illinois Bike Summit in beautiful Normal, Illinois last Wednesday. I did my best to bring down some truth about the Triple Bottom Line of trails to a full hotel conference room, maybe 150 mayors, planners, engineers, trail & bicycle advocates—including some of my personal heroes in each of those categories. The message was well received—I got some Amens!—and I’m grateful to League of Illinois Bicyclists’ Gina Kenny for sitting in front and filming the whole thing.
Like every new presentation I’ve done, this feels like the trial run for the next one. And Lo!, an invitation has come to pass. An attendee in Normal has invited me to present at the Illinois American Planning Association state conference in Champaign-Urbana this fall. But I have room for more. If the Righteous Path is something you want folks to hear, invite me out.